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The mark of the superior physician has traditionally been a high degree of cultivation. Eastern medicines have long held the scholar-warrior-physician as the benchmark for all doctors to aspire to. In this day and age, the scholar-physicians are few and far between. But there are a growing number of practitioners of Chinese medicine who seek to strive towards this ideal and see the importance of resurrecting this tradition.

The “Year of Sagely Living” is the brainchild of my good friend Brandt (Abdallah) Stickley (see Even Unto China) and Eric Grey (see Deepest Health) and I am fortunate to be involved in this at its inception. The idea is that over the course of the next year (beginning today) we make the commitment to cultivate the skills (academic, clinical, spiritual, etc.) of the superior physician. A syllabus of sorts has been created (see below) that will help guide the process. January 1st marks the beginning of scholarship and study. Each month will have a unique theme based on a synergy with the energies of each season and time of year. Excerpted below is the syllabus from Deepest Health.

January – Gall Bladder, Zi 子 (Rat): Scholarship/Study: This category will contain practices to develop us into true scholars in the Confucian/neo-Confucian tradition. Why this pairing? The seasonal energy is still in winter, a contemplative mood prevails, but the Yang is rising. Similar to this, we can see scholarly pursuits as ACTIVE passivity. One generally sits still, but one’s mind is hard at work.

February - Liver, Chou 丑 (Ox): Strategy/Business: This category will contain practices in the realm of business development and strategic planning in the professional world. Why this pairing? The Liver is the general of the body, so has a natural affinity for this kind of activity.

March - Lung, Yin 寅 (Tiger)- Activity/Rest: This category will contain practices having to do with appropriate cycles of rest and activity in daily life – for instance, appropriate waking times throughout the seasons. Why this pairing? This earthly branch and the essence of the Lung Zang is all about peaceful tension between opposites, like the time of the year associated with both. Further, being mindful of our need for balance between rest and activity is great preparation for the often overactive spring/summer energy.

April
– Large Intestine, Mao 卯 (Rabbit) – Care of the planet/consumption: This category will contain practices that develop us into compassionate and sane consumers, while helping to develop our deep relationship with the natural world. Why this pairing? April is a time when we can see the beauty of nature all around us, so is a great time to contemplate our dependence on it and responsibility towards it. Also, the negative side of LI/Rabbit is a tendency to run rough-shod over the needs and wants of others, these practices will seek to counterbalance this.

May - Stomach, Chen 晨 (Dragon): Physical cultivation: This category will contain practices that help us to shape our physical bodies into ideal vehicles for the transmission of healing energy. Why this pairing? The natural world has exploded into full splendor and the weather in the Northern hemisphere will be warm enough in most places to warrant moving around outside. The ST is an Earth organ and is related to the flesh of the body, which we will be building with these practices. Think also of the dragon and its association with martial arts and other physical cultivation practices.

June – Spleen, Si 巳 (Snake)- Food choices – This category works in tandem with the previous one to help maintain the physical form of the body in an optimal way. Why this pairing? June is actually a great time to do fasting or other food restriction activities because most of us don’t feel any great desire to eat excessively in the summer heat. Further, reducing the burden on digestion will help us to focus on absorbing the pure Yang energy so abundantly available in June.
July – Heart, Wu 午 (Horse) – Community building/charity – This category speaks to our need to be an integral and contributing member of a number of communities. It also involves the practice of compassion in a world where inequality is the norm. Why this pairing? The summer is a wonderful time to participate in community-oriented projects! Also, the Heart and Fire (the Heart’s element) are about intimacy, about connection to Spirit — both of which are well represented in the idea behind this category.

August - Small Intestine, Wei 未 (Sheep)- Ethical Behavior – This category will include practices not covered in other categories that have some ethical dimension. These practices are likely to be very individual and defined by a person’s background, spiritual/religious practice and culture. For example, practicing “Right Speech” through abstinence from cursing. Why this pairing? The Fu (hollow, Yang) organs are said to transmit the essence of their associated Zang (solid, Yin) organs. SI exemplifies this relationship in its devotion to sacrifice as a way to manifest the Heart’s mandate of connection to Spirit in the purest sense. Also because many of the “ethical behavior” practices we discussed are somewhat prohibitive, it resonates with the descent into metal energy that the earthly branch Wei represents.

September – Bladder, Shen 申 (Monkey)- Arts/Aesthetics: This category involves the use of our creative faculties – particularly as they pertain to the arts associated with Chinese medicine, such as calligraphy. Why this pairing? These activities are Yin within Yang – they are still, yet active – like scholarship. More importantly is the symbolism of 申. One of the meanings of this character is to stretch, and the oracle bones show it as two hands pulling something in opposite directions. We might think about this as the intercourse between Heaven and Earth, the Human Being in the middle being the substrate that is stretched between those two poles. I think Art facilitates this threefold communication.

October – Kidney, You 酉 (Rooster/owl): Chinese medicine specific skills: This category includes the refinement of Chinese medicine related skills, such as hand techniques in acupuncture. For those not in the field, you might look into developing skills that will help you in your work. Why this pairing? The Kidney is often said to be the root of all skill and expertise. Also, with the cool calm energy of autumn, one can become focused enough to substantially increase specific skills.

NovemberPericardium, Xu 戌: Relationships: This category will involve practices that help us develop more mature and meaningful relationships with others. Why this pairing? Pericardium is frequently said to mediate intimate relationships. One interesting symbolic note is the association of the earthly branch Xu, which means – essentially – weapon. This speaks on many levels to me. For instance, we must be careful to avoid violence in relationships, on whatever level. Also, relationships are a bit like handling weapons — if you’re not careful and mindful, it can come back to bite you. Finally, the late fall and winter are good times for relationship oriented activity, given that most of us desire to stay at home with family and friends as the weather cools.

DecemberTriple Burner, Hai 亥: Spiritual cultivation: Although we will be looking at spiritual dimensions of all kinds of activity throughout the year, this month we will give it special attention. These practices will probably be quite individual, but there may be some shared goals – such as having a daily meditation practice. Why this pairing? I’ve always learned about TB as being the mysterious “in between,” the mover between worlds, the ultimate stillness. What a metaphor for spiritual practice!

While all these categories are areas that many of us are already cultivating to various degrees, the syllabus will allow a renewed commitment and strengthened focus on a monthly basis. Each of us involved will also share our experiences online on our respective blogs.

To assist in this endeavor, I will also institute some ground rules. As I have been ongoingly engaged in studying pulse diagnosis and writing about it, I am committed to publishing articles regularly on this topic and have an agreement to publish a series with the Chinese Medicine Times. (The first article can be found here.) I also have plans with others to publish a video lecture on the same topic.

As I have recently begun a PhD program in Classical Chinese medicine, I also commit to studying the video lectures at least twice weekly and integrating the information into my practice.

I have been involved in martial arts since the age of 8, however, the demands of raising a family and running a busy practice have sidelined that passion for approximately 5 years. In November I have once again begun the study and practice of tai ji quan and commit to regular practice and qi cultivation.

I also have the unique opportunity of a close personal relationship with Lama Doctor Tsewang Ngodrup Rinpoche (see Rangnang Ogminling Bendirya Kunphen Ling) a gifted spiritual teacher and traditional Tibetan doctor. I have begun private classes with Him in Tibetan medicine and will continue to pursue this avenue of cultivation. My Buddhist practice is tied in with this study, and my commitment to bring this spirituality into my practice and life in a more authentic way is strengthened.

I also dedicate uninterrupted time to spend with my wife and three children. So often the busy days pass with squeezing in work and family time, the two often commingled into the same block of time. I will make separate time for work and for family, the latter being more active and involved.

More to come….

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